Program allows inmates to #039;earn their keep#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 12, 2005

The Butler County Commission learned Monday that a new program is being implemented at the Butler County Jail for inmates wishing to get their general equivalency diploma (GED).

Jail Administrator Al McKee told the Commission that he has set up a room in the basement of the building to be used by inmates who wish to pursue their education.

Currently, he said one inmate, is attempting to earn his GED while incarcerated.

&uot;It is mandated by federal law that we offer some type of educational program,&uot; he said.

He said he would be contacting the school system about the need in the near future.

Sheriff Diane Harris told the Commission that juveniles by law already have the opportunity.

&uot;Juveniles who have been charged with a Class A felony and who are still in high school, we contact the school where they attend and have them bring their school work over,&uot; she said.

Work Release

Commissioners seemed pleased with the setup of the education program.

They were also pleased to learn how well the work release program is going for jail inmates.

McKee told the board that he has inmates placed in several locations and that the employers are pleased and that $14,039 has been collected from wages the inmates earned.

McKee explained after the meeting that he, the employer and the inmate all sign an agreement that approves payment of 25 percent of the inmate’s gross pay to the county.

&uot;We get 25 percent from their gross pay before anything else is taken out,&uot; McKee said.

He said inmates are not underpaid and the agreement signed states they must be paid at the prevailing wage for similar work performed in the area or community where the work is performed.

&uot;I think it has been a positive factor for Butler County inmates because they have been able to pay their restitution,&uot; he said.

&uot;We’ve had 35 going in and out.

There have been a few rule breakers, but we’ve voided them out of the program.&uot;

Those rules are simple, he said.

Inmates are not allowed to use business telephones for personal calls, they are not to have visitors, they are not allowed to drive any vehicles owned by the employer, they are not to have any type alcoholic beverage, nor can they purchase medication without the sheriff’s approval.

McKee said he has had inmates placed at Construction Components, Waffle House, H & H Framing Company, YMCA, Hudson Funeral Home and Sam’s Lawn Care.

One former inmate now works full time at a job he got after being in the work release program.

&uot;When the employer saw the quality and type of work the inmate did, he hired him on for a permanent position,&uot; McKee told the Commission.

The funds being raised through the program is taking some burden off the county’s coffers.

McKee said some of the money has been used to purchase new televisions, exercise equipment and a new computer that tracks everything about the program, under the watchful eye of Lt. Sharon Smith.

&uot;She tracks how much they make, how much is paid in and can give prisoners a printout of it when they need it,&uot; he said.

&uot;We cannot use the funds for jail improvements, prisoner transportation.

We can purchase jail uniforms with it.

We’ve had a few who have paid for their own medications and not putting the bill on the county and also one inmate even paid for his own trip to the dentist.&uot;

The money is also used to purchase hygiene products for inmates.

McKee said this way, the inmates no eligible for the program are also being help.

&uot;The ones who can go out and work are helping the ones who can’t go out and work,&uot; he said.

Smith said she is proud of the program’s success and said everyone should be comfortable with the work of the prisoners because they are held to such high standards.

&uot;Yes, we’ve had a few who have tried to break the rules, but they were pulled immediately from the program,&uot; she said.

Engineer’s Report

County Engineer Dennis McCall told the Commission that the cleanup from Hurricane Ivan continues in the county and that the process is about 50 percent complete.

&uot;We have tripled the production,&uot; he said.

&uot;We are still on schedule to be complete by Feb. 1.

The Corp of Engineer is now working in the Industry and Forest Home areas.&uot;

He told the Commission the cost of the cleanup will be more than they first anticipated but that will likely be around $2.5 million total.

Of course, due to the disaster declaration, that tab is being picked up by the federal government.

He also reported that the paving project on County Road 45 South is to begin this week.

When complete, the highway will be resurfaced from Lowndes County to McKenzie.

Another item reported on is the work of salvaging timber.

McCall is on the commission ordered by Gov. Bob Riley to try to find ways of saving the timber lost in Ivan.

&uot;Our goal was to salvage at least 30 percent of the timber down,&uot; he said.

&uot;There were a lot of critics who said it was not possible and now it appears we’ll meet that goal.&uot;

Other business

N The Commission approved the purchase of five new triple axle dump trucks and two motor graders.

By using the 2004 plan; the county saved an estimated $50,000 by not waiting to use the 2005 plan to purchase the same equipment.

N Approved the resolution for the community correction program that will allow judges to sentence convicted criminals to serve their time in other ways than in the jail or prison.

N Commissioner Glenn King requested that $500 be given to McKenzie School for the new playground equipment fund set up by the McKenzie PTA.

The goal is $15,000 and they’ve raised approximately $12,500, King said praising International Paper and Ken Chesser for their donations.

The Commission approved the donation of $500 to the fund.

N Approved employees who are interested in using AFLAC insurance to have the premiums deducted from their paychecks.